The Labour government developed a vision for a network of problem-solving US-style community justice centres tackling offending behaviour and listening to what communities expected from their courts. However, North Liverpool, based in a former secondary school on Boundary Lane in Kirkdale at a start up cost of £5.2m, was the only court centre built on that model. Clearly the running costs proved to be prohibitive from the Ministry of Justice perspective.
The government is now seeking to close down the Centre - LINK - due, it is said, to falling workload. In July 2012, the government published an analysis of Re-Offending rates. This concluded:
- There is no evidence that the NLCJC is any more effective in reducing re-offending than other courts
- Offenders receiving a court order at NLCJC were more likely to breach the conditions of their order than offenders receiving court orders elsewhere
- No evidence to suggest that offending behaviour generally has improved more in the North Liverpool area than elsewhere
- Some evidence that NLCJC operated more efficiently than other courts. Cases were dealt with more quickly. However, there was also evidence of inefficiency at the court including a higher proportion of 'cracked trials' than elsewhere.
Various factors underpinning community justice were not examined in the 2012 report. These include courts connecting to the local community; justice being seen to be done; having a strong independent judiciary and raising confidence within the community.
'Community Justice' principles have supposedly been embedded into the usual Magistrates' Courts but this is with mixed degrees of success. The NLCJC had the merit of being dedicated to 'community justice' principles.
An article about the 2012 report was published by The Guardian on 3rd August 2012. The article stated:
'You don't have to be a pessimist to suspect that in this "age of austerity" - huge cuts to the MoJ budget and a court closure program - that the pioneering court's days are numbered.'
Prophetic words indeed!
The Ministry of Justice consultation on the closure is open to 27th August.
Principles of Community Justice
Red Pepper - A radical alternative to prison and see Lasting change or passing fad? Problem solving justice in England and Wales - (Greg Berman and Aubrey Fox - ed. Ben Ullmann)